The UK Guardian Does Software

March 29, 2010

Short honk: I found the factoid that “100,000 Buy Guardian App” interesting. According to the news story in The Post, “Introduced in mid-December, the £2.39 app has been downloaded more than 100,000 times.” This works out to about $5.00 US for a revenue flow of $500,000. For me the most interesting comment was:

Moore [Guardian executive] admitted that the Guardian was relatively late to market with its app, but said he felt its delay had been rewarded by its popularity. He said it had taken time to design an app that would, in his words ‘‘delight’’ the audience. Before the iPhone, he noted, it was virtually impossible for any media company to deliver a compelling experience through mobile phones.

Ah, “late to market” and “delight”. Yes.

Now the question racing through my addled goose brain is, “How much did it cost to develop the applications?” Once I have this information, I want to know, “What is the cost going forward to enhance the application?”

Stephen E Arnold, March 29, 2010

No pay for this one. I will report this sad state of affairs to the Bureau of Labor. I could go for the child labor angle but I am going to be 66 years old. Sigh.

Evri and Radar Networks

March 29, 2010

The Semantic Web, as those of you who have read my study Google Version 2.0, may become Google’s wading pool. The company continues to provide easy-to-use services whilst keeping the complications of semantic technology under the bonnet.

Evri, a start up founded by Paul Allen (one of the Microsoft founders), focused on semantic technology. The company’s focus is on the context around a conversation. The company’s said:

Evri is a technology company developing products that change the way consumers discover and engage with content on the Web. Publishers large and small have leveraged Evri’s semantic platform on their websites, including some of the world’s most prestigious news organizations like the Washington Post, Hearst Publishing (www.lmk.com), Ziff Davis, Yahoo! and the Times of London. With over 2 million profile pages across over 500 categories, several content recommendation applications and a feature-rich API platform, Evri is rapidly improving consumers’ access to information on the topics they value most.

In March 2010, Evri acquired Radar Networks, another player in the semantic sector but one with more marketing moxie in my opinion. Radar Network’s service is called Twine, and you can give it a test drive on the Twine Web site. Evri noted:

Twine is an online service for intelligently finding, organizing and sharing information with the people you trust. With the acquisition of Twine, Evri gains an incredibly talented team with proven momentum in semantic search and content discovery to complement our own. By combining the best of social and semantic filtering, we are greatly accelerating our ability to help people cut through the clutter and discover relevant news and information from across the real time web.

Evri offers contextual and topic based widgets. One of the widgets that I found useful is the Popover button. Once installed, an icon appears below a blog post. A click displays related content. Useful.

Evri offers an iPhone app called EvriVerse:

The EvriVerse app from Evri.com let’s you browse through popular people, places and things on demand. Watching a TV show and want to know who the actor is being compared to or curious to find out who your favorite celebrity is feuding with this week? Simply enter the name of the person, place or thing and find out who is connected to your topic. Learn more about them through related news stories and find additional pictures, videos, connections and news on their Evri.com topic pages.

image

EvriVerse from http://itunes.apple.com/app/evriverse/id312716560?mt=8#

Are semantic companies about to catch fire? The UK’s decision to set up a semantic institute and the number of emails I get about semantic technology suggest that interest is increasing. The challenge, in my opinion, will be to outsmart Google, which has the likes of Ramanathan Guha and Tim Bray drinking Odwalla in the Google cafeteria. Google has traction, lots of customers, and lots of distractions. An upstart could snag the semantic sector, leaving Google looking at another firm’s tail lights as Google is watching Facebook’s tail lights now.

Stephen E Arnold, March 29, 2010

No one paid me to write this article. Because I reference semantics, I will report no pay to the USGS which once had an interest in semantic technologies.

Windows Search Syntax

March 29, 2010

I recall hearing that fewer than five percent of search users avail themselves of advanced query syntax. Most people whack in 2.3 words and take what the system displays. For those five percenters, Ars Technica has done a great job of delivering the type of search tips that were the meat and potatoes of the Dialogs, SDC Orbit, DataStar, and ESA search trainers in the 1980s. You can read the tips in “Mastering Windows Search using Advanced Query Syntax.”

The only hitch in the advanced search features on any system, not just Microsoft’s, is that use of advanced syntax requires a solid knowledge of the contents of a corpus. In my experience, most folks who fiddle with advanced syntax have this type of specialized knowledge. If you don’t know what’s in the corpus or you don’t know what your limits of understanding are, the advanced query functions will be irrelevant.

This means that most users need training wheels on the search system. That’s why Google and other next generation search systems do as much heavy lifting for the user as possible. Users are like water, seeking the path of least resistance and then settling into the lowest point in the channel.

The fact that Ars Technica requires two densely packed pages of tips is ample evidence that user friendliness and ease of use are not high on the list of the developers who worked on the Windows search system. Just my opinion.

Stephen E Arnold, March 30, 2010

A freebie. I will report working for nothing to the US Postal Service, Saturday delivery unit.

Exalead Powers PagesJaunes.fr and More

March 29, 2010

A happy quack to the reader who alerted me to the new Exalead-powered PagesJaunes service.

exalead pagejaunes 01

The system allows a user to enter a name of a company or a needed service and get a listing, a map, and other information. The Exalead system displays the traditional address and phone number, but the system taps into information on social network on which the person has a public profile.

PageJaunes.fr is high-revenue, high-use service. The Exalead system adds functionality and speed to the PageJaunes service.

exalead pagejaunes 02

The blog post PagesJaunes Integrates Social Networks with Exalead PagesBlanches.fr explains how the social networking content amplifies the listings.

I try to keep pace with innovations in directory systems. Exalead’s push into this market is welcome news. Most of the directory-centric systems I examine struggle when acquiring, indexing, and mashing up content from structured and unstructured sources. Exalead’s system makes this type of next-generation information display part of the firm’s core system.

For more information about Exalead, navigate to www.exalead.com. If you want to read an interview with the technical wizard behind the Exalead system, navigate to the ArnoldIT.com Search Wizards Speak series.

AT&T, check out PagesJaunes.com. Put your existing system out to pasture and let me use an Exalead-powered system from my goose pond in Kentucky. Yo, AT&T, are you listening?

Stephen E Arnold, March 29, 2010

No one paid me to point out that the Exalead directory system is a heck of a lot better than what I have to use from Harrod’s Creek, Kentucky. I suppose I can report this to the ever vigilant FCC. But Exalead is a French company, so maybe I have to report to the State Department. Goodness, compliance is often confusing.

Google Needs Pals

March 28, 2010

I read a story with a Reuters byline in Economic Times called “Google Gets Little Support in Internet Fight with China.” The idea is that Google needs some pals. The most interesting comment in my opinion was:

Google’s difficulty in enlisting allies could hint at the challenges ahead for the world’s largest search engine in China, where organizing broad support has in the past proven to be an effective tool for negotiating with the government.

In my experience, when does the math club need the help of the homecoming committee? Answer: Never.

Another interesting passage is attributed to Alan Wolff, a person who used to be a US trade representative:

“If China takes a broad action … then all the trade associations sign a joint letter and complain about it. If it’s an action against one company, the reactions are more private.

So, in China there will be folks who follow the government’s white line.

Bottomline: Google may be in for some interesting challenges in China, which has some allies not just in the country but elsewhere.

Stephen E Arnold, March 28, 2010

A freebie. I will report non payment for writing this article to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, where payment is part of the policies’ when properly applied.

Leadership Expert Explains Google and China

March 28, 2010

In a project years ago, I had an opportunity to talk with individuals who were recipients of recognition for bravery and leadership. One of the take aways for me was the  insight that many of those with whom I spoke just did “the right thing.” I recall that a fairly significant number did not remember their brave action too clearly. When I meet someone whom I have heard described as a “leader”, I wonder if that person is acting in an instinct manner or if the behavior is calculated. After watching one episode of “Monster Garage” with some of my goslings, one person said, “Jesse James is a natural leader.” I found that comment interesting then because this gosling was no strutting, taciturn, tattooed person. The gosling was a math whiz. A leader in math club maybe but not in the Monster Garage where vehicles with big engines were assembled in a very short period of time.

The write up “Views on Google’s Refusal to Continue Censorship in China” tackles this subject of leadership with comments from different business experts.

The author of one “comment” is a “business ethics expert and senior fellow at Harvard University’s schools of law and government.” The passage that caught my attention was:

Bill Gates is quoted as saying that Microsoft observes the laws of nations where it operates. If so, he hasn’t addressed the other side of the equation: important company ethics and values that can trump national law.

What I find interesting is that the cold, math oriented culture of Google is acting based on ethics. Microsoft, the aging giant, is acting based on following the laws of nations in which the company operates.

I am an addled goose, but it seems to me that if one does business in a country, one has to follow the laws of that country. When I visited Zimbabwe and was asked to pay $20 for an exit visa, I ponied up the money. I don’t have to pay to leave the US for Paris, but it struck me that the phrase “when in Rome” was appropriate. The guards with weapons also motivated me, but I decided to follow the “law”.

The notion that a person or a company can ignore the laws of another country is an interesting one, and I have to confess that when I was working for a law enforcement group in another country, I followed the “laws” of that country.

The alternative for me was not to go to that country or not to work in that country. Once I made the decision to go and work, then I bought into whatever the “laws” were. The idea that I could ignore the laws and still work in another country seemed like a child who wants to control the make up of a playground basketball team because he brought the ball.

Companies that want to make their own rules when doing business in another country and continue to generate revenue within that country for themselves may find the path forward strewn with obstacles.

In my own experience, the problems and some representative examples include but are not limited to:

  • Long delays when any government form must be processed (some African countries)
  • Difficulties in getting telephone or electric service (France)
  • Delays or red tape regarding financial transactions (Brazil)
  • Denial of access to certain institutional services (Saudi Arabia)
  • Legal actions taken against a property, person, or commercial entity (China)
  • Inability to obtain medical attention or receiving appropriate medical attention (Estonia)
  • Bad luck when submitting government forms which seem to get misrouted (Japan).

Companies who are practical find ways to deal with the laws of a country in which they are doing business. I have seen with my own eyes a government worker in one country accept currency folded inside an official form. The purpose of the sweetened government form was to speed the process of getting a driver’s license in the country. No big deal in my opinion because that was how one worked the system. I was in grade school at the time and I understood how a company could fit into the “laws” of another country. Fortunately I have not been in this type of situation, but I understood it was a practical response in a particular context.

I find the notion that Microsoft’s doing business is somehow “wrong” pretty darned silly. The flip side that Google’s approach is “right” even sillier. A company has to decide where to do business. The idea that a company can define the rules and expect to operate in an unencumbered fashion is illogical. Even more interesting is that in some situations that type of decision can get someone hurt or the person’s family hurt. Some cultures have long institutional memories. My view is that I expect publicly traded companies to do what can be done within the boundaries of the applicable laws to build shareholder value. Your view may be different and that’s okay.

So read the entire Washington Post write up. Draw your own conclusion. Then ask yourself, “Would I refuse to pay the exit fee to leave Zimbabwe?” Visit the country. Check it out. It is easy to intellectualize when you are far away from a teenager with an automatic weapon in my experience. You might be a brave leader. I am neither. I try to figure out how to cope with the “law” where I am working. Getting arrested, beaten, or shot is not high on my list of 1,000 things to do before I die. A company is not a sovereign nation state. If Google were a nation state, would it not have a seat at the United Nations?

Stephen E Arnold, March 28, 2010

No one paid me to write this. Because of the international flavor of the item, I will report non payment to the Department of State, where one motto is “Diplomacy is our business.”

Search Vendors Should Focus. Okay, Mom

March 28, 2010

Internet Evolution ran a story called “Search Vendors Should Focus on Real Enterprise Needs.” I like the “should” write ups. These are parental and provide the type of inputs that my mother used to offer me when I was a child in Campinas, Brazil. My mother would say, “Be careful.” We lived adjacent a jungle in which resided poisonous snakes, wild pigs, and various spiders that could drop from the tree canopy and chow down. A dip in a pond would allow leeches to burrow into my fat, 12-year old body like truckers eating waffles at the International House of Pancakes. Yep, “Be careful.”

Mother never left the house. She stayed behind the 10 foot walls topped with glass, secure with the maid, the gardener, and the cook. She wanted to be back in the Midwest where shopping for groceries did not involve watching the butcher kill the cow in the back of the store and bring in fresh meat in response to her request for prime rib. Right, “Be careful.” We drank “filtered water”, delivered each week by a local vendor. Drinking the stuff from the tap when water flowed was an invitation to serious misery.

So, “Search Vendors Should Focus on Real Enterprise Needs” reminded me of my mother’s attempt to enforce so weird Midwestern behavior on a kid who was trying to figure out the wild, wonderful world of Brazil in the 1950s. My world was not her world, and I think the author’s world is not the world of the company that develops, markets, and supports enterprise search systems.

The main idea of the write up is that enterprise search vendors are focusing on unreal needs. The only problem is that the write up talks about eCommerce, which is a subset of search. Enterprise search is a subset of search, and although one can integrate search and eCommerce search in one system, I try to keep the two systems apart.

This passage caught my attention:

Search today depends on human action. No matter the level of sophistication we choose, Google’s splash page includes perhaps the best phrase for our expectations: “I’m Feeling Lucky.” We poor end users have no idea what is going on in the algorithms of Google, Yahoo, or Microsoft. We still feel in awe that anything remotely like what we are looking for manages to show up in the search results. We also feel like information delivery is stuck on some Web 2.0 treadmill, content to just react to our queries with a mundane lists of URLs.

The write up shifts to the weird world of search engine optimization. Now I agree that search depends on human action, because humans build systems and humans want information. However, many systems perform automated functions to reduce the cost of delivering information a human wants or may want.

The article concludes with this statement:

I feel a bit like the panel of judges on American Idol. I can see the potential, but the implementations are all a bit karaoke. They all peaked early and haven’t really given us a recent moment. The first credible vendor that changes the dialog from search to information that finds me — and then delivers — will be my American Idol, even if they hail from England, China, Israel, or Brazil.

Okay, let’s back up.

First, the type of search discussed in the Internet Revolution write up is not “behind the firewall search”. The author is throwing around a phrase without defining it so I know what’s what. Second, the introduction of eCommerce search is another false start. Finally, the shift to the need for information to find a user is a good point, and it is a subset of search.

Three observations:

  1. The reason there is so much confusion about search is due to messy, careless writing. Defining terms is a pretty useful exercise when a common phrase has many possible meanings. I don’t think vendors of enterprise search are ignoring real needs. The Exalead search enabled application is a good example and just one from many I could identify.
  2. eCommerce search is a work in progress. A range of methods are in use to make it possible to connect a buyer and a seller. Amazon’s approach is one method; eBay’s is another. Google’s is a third path. None work particularly well, and each company is trying to improve. But eCommerce search has specific requirements and these are different from the requirements for locating information in a customer support system or from a mobile device when one is lost in Lexington, Kentucky.
  3. The idea that end users want search to be easy was true in the 1970s and it is true in the 2010s. The problem is that search is a difficult problem. The companies are doing their best within the limits of their resources. Even companies with abundant resources like Google and Microsoft are quick to point out that search is a work in progress.

My recommendation is that anyone writing about search step back and ask, “Have I defined my terms?” and “Have I provided actionable information?” If the answer to these questions, is “Gee, I don’t know”, then save the parental approach for your children. I ignored “shoulds” when I was 12 and I still ignore them today.

Stephen E Arnold, March 28, 2010

No one paid me to write this commentary. I will report non payment to the Bureau of Prisons where “should” is not an operative work. Hey, some prisoners get paid for their work too.

Institute for Web Science Funded

March 28, 2010

The UK may have a lorry stuffed full of bad debts, but it is going to support the Semantic Web. I learned from XML Journal that “Berners-Lee Gets a New Institute.” Now an “institute” in the UK is a bit different from the US non-profit. “Institutes” can certify. To become a materials scientist with alphabetical letters behind one’s name and a permit to do stuff like find new methods to deposit scratch resistant films on aircraft cockpits, you have to pass a test. “Institutes” can be big business and their impact is global. I heard that Japan monitors some UK institutes closely to make certain that the requirements set down in the UK for engineers are considered for Japanese engineers. Maybe? Maybe not, but the rumor underscores a type of influence that extends beyond something like the Institute for Creation Research.

According to XML Journal:

[The Institute for Web Science is] supposed to develop, maybe even commercialize, Berners-Lee’s quixotic next-generation notions of a Semantic Web and put the UK on the cutting edge of emerging Internet technologies, according to Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who also wants every home in the UK to have super-fast broadband by 2020. The institute will be jointly based at the Universities of Oxford and Southampton, the latter a hot bed of Semantic Web research where Berners-Lee has had a part-time post since 2004.

My view is that this will be an important outfit in less than a year. The Institute may be one way to help ensure that the Semantic Web remains an open environment, not the province of a single company. How big a role will outfits like Google, IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle play? We will know when the first organization details begin to emerge.

Stephen E Arnold, March 28, 2010

Free as a bird. No one paid me to write this. I will report non payment to the Administration for Native Americans. I should work at a casino in Wisconsin. Bet I get paid there.

China and Its Google Policy

March 27, 2010

I love it when big “real” news outfits run stories that cannot be verified easily from my mine run off pond in Harrods Creek, Kentucky. I thought that was the province of the faux geese, poobahs, and azure chip consultants. I urge you to read “Two Minutes Hate for Google Begins.” I have no idea what the title means, but the article summarizes alleged instructions from the Chinese government to those who work in “the Propaganda Department.” The admonitions are hardly surprising. Google is “a non person.” I don’t know too much about China, but I have visited and I have done some odd jobs for Chinese owned companies. My view is that I would prefer to be a person. A non person is a bit like the folks Rome used to invade in the salad days of 56 BCE. I probably treat my two dogs better than the average Roman centurion treated some farmer in what is now Belgium.

The comment in the write up I noted was:

All over the world people in power try to heavy journalists and stop them reporting the truth. In China, it’s usually over incidents or the actions of forlorn dissidents who, like Gao Zhisheng, just disappear and then turn up in jail.

My hunch is that more than journalists are going to be given some guidance related to things Google. How quickly will China have its own version of a mobile operating system properly Chinafied? If you were manufacturing gizmos for Google, would you brush off a government suggestion or would you give any guidance considerable thought? The Chinese market is too important for some companies and I remember the comment one wit made to me about China’s relations with its neighboring countries, “China can just ask 10 million people to walk across the border and order lunch.” Google is a company. China is a country, a big country. A non person in a big country is not a positive in my opinion.

Stephen E Arnold, March 27, 2010

A freebie. I will report this unpaid writing to the Department of State, a great outfit.

Clever Marketing or Objective Search Results

March 27, 2010

I think about the hassles I have with search engine optimization poobahs. I get emails asking me for backlinks to sites I would never visit. Seminars, online diagnostics, and conferences attempt to lure me with every inducement short of coming to my office to serenade me.

What’s up?

My view is that people are not too keen on searching. Most users are in a hurry and want the type of information that can be gleaned from a straightforward analysis of log files. I think of this as the approach taken by TV Guide, when it was one of the most widely read publications in the US.

I thought of this when I read the Mediapost write up “How Paid Search Helped One Company Buy Its Way To The Top.” The article does a good job of explaining the lengths to which companies will go to get traffic and then make a sale. The case example is TomTom’s effort to unseat Garmin from the top spot for navigation systems.

The solution was to tap good old fashioned merchandising, software from Searchandise Commerce, and Endeca. The most interesting passage in the write up was:

Searchandise works with in-site search providers like Endeca to integrate information. Retailers deliver information on their inventory nightly to Searchandise, which takes the information and matches it to search campaigns and uploads the information back to the retailer’s inventory system. Gores [Searchandise executive] would like to see Searchandise develop a search engine optimization model where the technology considers click-through rates.

What’s fascinating is that as this effort to get traffic was ramping, mobile devices seemed to be gaining traction in the navigation space. Is this marketing to retain a market under technology pressure? Is this an effort to deliver more objective search results to those who choose to deal with key words and the densely packed pages common on shopping sites?

I am on the fence, but I think the mobile device shift may be a more significant change factor than trying to figure out how to pop up in a Google results list. Who sells navigation devices in China? Is it Google, Baidu, or Bing?  Perhaps this approach to SEO is out of step with broader market conditions?

Nevertheless, the case is fascinating.

Stephen E Arnold, March 27, 2010

No one paid me to write this. I will report it to the Webmaster of GSA’s FedBizOps where great searching is the norm. I test the system by searching for “GB-7007”. Give it a try.

« Previous PageNext Page »